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Less money, fewer grad students

Sudarsan Padmanabhan, a graduate student earning his Ph.D. in philosophy, said he used to receive thousands of e-mails from students in India inquiring about graduate studies at USF.

Now, the inquiries trickle in.

He credits the drop to the Sept. 11 attacks and the decrease of funding for graduate students.

“Word has really spread that there’s no money,” he said. “I don’t have the authority to tell them not to come. But on a personal level, I can tell them that USF is nice, the climate is good, and the financial situation is bad, but if you want to fund yourself, then come.”

Before university budgets began shrinking, positive word of mouth brought Indian students to USF. But with graduate tuition waivers and appointments in jeopardy, many students are staying away.

New guidelines are in the works for granting graduate students tuition waivers and appointments in research and teaching positions, which could affect USF’s more than 6,000 graduate students. International students may be hit the hardest by the changes because of the obstacles they face. International students must pay out-of-state tuition, about $5,000, which is three times more than in-state tuition, which is about $1,496.

According to Dale Johnson, dean for Graduate Studies, students need to be placed in positions that relate to their program.

For instance, an engineering student who gets placed in the campus post office would probably not receive a waiver. Johnson said if students are placed in a job outside of the program, then they need to fill out forms to be approved by their college.

“It saves the limited waivers for people who are working in jobs within or related to the degree program,” Johnson said. “We’re making sure we’re getting the best use out of the waiver program.” Another change being drafted would put time limits on how long students receive waivers. Johnson said time limits were in effect a few years ago but were not enforced.

“We want to be fair to the students,” Johnson said. “We’re trying to use limited resources to be fair to students and be competitive.”

International students may only work on campus for no more than 20 hours per week, and most graduate students depend on their waivers for paying bills. Without waivers or jobs, many international students are looking to their parents or others for support.

Many of Prasath Raghavendran’s friends in India ask him about coming to USF, but the engineering graduate student said he tells his friends not to come.

“I tell them, ‘Don’t come. There’s no funding,'” he said. “I don’t want my friends to have the same type of suffering.”

Padmanabhan and the organization Gurukulam of Tampa Bay provide free groceries to about 60 Indian students.

“We’re trying to do our part,” Padmanabhan said. “Their salary doesn’t pay for their tuition.”

Ramakrishnan Sundaram, another engineering graduate student, is in his first year at USF and is already considering transferring to another university because the outlook for grad students isn’t what he expected.

Saravana Natarajan, who is in the third year of the graduate program in engineering, said he is worried, and that he is stuck at USF no matter what happens. He said he has invested time into his research project and people depend on him to finish it.

“I can’t switch schools,” he said. “Some kind of funding is based on us.”

Jodi Nettleton, co-president for the Graduate Assistants United, called the situation “bleak,” saying USF’s research status is in jeopardy.

“It looks like we’re going to lose our grad students,” she said. “For us to have a Research I institution, we need to have graduate students doing research. If they cut one of those links, it’ll all fall apart.”

She has been working with the administration to make sure students are protected as much as possible.

Nettleton, who is earning a master’s degree in anthropology, works outside of her program, and she is uncertain what will happen to her next semester.

“My position isn’t solid,” she said. “It’s much more difficult to relate my job to my program.”

Carlos Smith, associate dean in the College of Engineering, said funds had to be taken from the spring reserves to pay for this fall.

“We’re doing the best we can with the money we’re given,” he said. “Right now, we don’t have much. Students and faculty come to me worried. I go to someone else worried, Dale Johnson goes to President (Judy) Genshaft worried.”

Smith added that he understands the position GAs are in.”We were all grad students, TAs and RAs. Faculty were students before,” he said.

Balaji Lakshminarayanan, a 27-year-old graduate engineering student working toward his Ph.D., stays late many nights in one of the engineering labs working on his project. Sometimes, he sleeps in his office. Getting his degree has consumed him, and he tries not to think about the worst.

“I’m just keeping my fingers crossed, but I’m hoping for the best,” he said. “Quitting is always the last option when getting a Ph.D. I don’t want to quit.”

  • Contact Selina Roman at oraclemanaging@yahoo.com